Ballarat rowers. Photo by Ed Dunens.

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Good social policies can’t end at the city limits

All Victorians should be able to afford the basics, access services, receive a good education and have a roof over their heads—regardless of where they live.

But speak to people living in regional Victoria and they’ll tell you these simple aspirations are so often out of reach.

For many, distance from services are too great and transport options aren’t up to scratch. For others, internet and phone connections are poor, or they’re coping with the harsh realities of our changing climate.

The data backs this up. The poverty rate for regional Victoria is a whopping 15.1 per cent, almost three percentage points higher than in Melbourne.

However, as our 2018 report The Voices of Regional Victoria highlighted, issue unfold in unique ways in regional localities, reflecting their history, character and resources.

Delivering Fairness, VCOSS’s formal policy submission ahead of the 2019 state budget, lays out a suite of policy measures to address this.

Here are four ways the Victorian Government could ensure fairness is delivered to all those living in rural and regional areas.

 Ramping up transport options for rural and regional Victorians

Access to transport is critical in rural and regional areas, allowing people to reach employment, education, recreation, as well as health and community services. People living in outer regional and remote areas are more likely than their urban counterparts to experience difficulty accessing service providers including basic services such as doctors, dentists, telecommunication services as well as government services such as Centrelink.

Victoria can invest in Flexible Local Transport Solutions to help ensure people can get to work, education and appointments.

This investment along with subsidising transport for people who cannot afford to travel to or around regional centres, and funding organisations to provide outreach or permanent local transport services can help all Victorians get to where they need to go.

 Augmenting funding for rural services

People living in rural and remote need access to the same diversity of services as other Victorians. Community organisations are often funded to provide services across regions that might be hundreds of kilometres wide, with no additional funding to cover the added difficulty and expense of rural service delivery.

Not everyone can drive to a regional city to seek assistance, and it may take hours out of a worker’s day to drive to someone’s home or community. Small and variable numbers of clients can make it challenging and expensive to find space for service delivery in rural areas.

Victorian can boost rural service funding with a ‘rural loading’ to help compensate for the additional costs of providing services in rural and remote areas, and help ensure that all Victorians can access the services they need where they need them.

 Backing community organisations in the face of climate change and emergencies

Community organisations are crucial to building and maintaining the vital social connections and networks in communities that help build resilience and enable people to cope with and adapt to shock and change.

Victoria acknowledges that climate change poses one of the biggest threats to our future and community sector organisations in rural and regional Victoria are already seeing and feeling the effects of changes in climate and extreme weather events.

Victoria can support community organisations to be better placed to cope with and adapt to climate change through developing a framework that outlines the role and responsibilities of organisations, identify the skills and competencies needed, and a plan to develop and maintain these capacities.  Victoria can also fund organisations to engage in emergency and climate change planning to ensure that organisations themselves are resilient to shock and change.

 Expanding alcohol and other drug treatment services

There has been a significant shortfall in funding for alcohol and other drug services in rural and regional Victoria and many organisations report being unable to keep up with demand.

Despite regional Victoria having higher rates of drug overdose deaths than Melbourne, people living in rural and regional Victoria have distinct requirements and challenges in accessing alcohol and other drug treatments services including lack of access to detoxification and rehabilitation facilities.

Victoria can help people overcome addiction and problem drug and alcohol use by funding more rehabilitation services in regional areas that ensure people can access treatment close to home and stay connected to family and community.

 

Further measures to boost regional Victoria were included in the VCOSS’ s 2018 Victorian Election Platform, and include:

  • Boosting regional economic development strategies to link local training with local jobs and generate viable commercial bases that benefit people living locally.
  • Growing local community sector skills to ensure a supply of qualified, professional community service workers to fill local jobs.
  • Expanding public access Wi-Fi and internet to allow people to participate in social and economic life and to be connected with family and friends.
  • Boosting community health as regional health hubs to ensure equal access for marginalised and isolated communities.

 

The first step towards designing solutions is accepting and defining the challenge at hand.

All the data and all the research confirms regional Victoria needs special attention.

Policymakers need to be working harder and smarter to ensure everybody in Victoria can lead a good life.